A Wildlife Adventure with our Ancestors

Visiting the Zoos and seeing those fun loving orangutans that we are so closely linked to is fun enough, but as Michelle Perry experienced, a tour on the Kinabatangan River where your interaction with orangutans are much more closely linked creates for one fascinating destination. Michelle Perry’s article, “Viewing Our Cousins, the Orangutans: A Wildlife Tour on the Kinabatangan River,” depicts her great adventure and learning experience visiting the Kinabatangan river to see animals in their natural habitats. An important statement that readers should hold on to is the point that Michelle Perry makes about the declining in numbers of these amazing animals and our ancestors.

The most impressive thing when you get up close to an orangutan is how similar we humans are to them. Everything about them feels familiar. Weirdly, I felt like I was staring at some long-lost relative. You get the sense they recognise you, too. This feeling of mutual recognition is not however surprising given that amazingly, we share over 90% of our genetic make-up with orang-utans.

Instead I had planned to go to an organutan sanctuary, where you can ogle at the orphaned baby orangutans at feeding times amid other onlookers. There, I knew I’d be guaranteed a glimpse of the notoriously solitary creatures, but the experience is incomparable to seeing them in the wild.The possibilities were, however, slim. Orangutans maintain complex social networks of loose relationships, but adult males are usually found alone, while adult females are usually accompanied by one or two of her offspring. In short, they aren’t easy to spot.

Worse still, their numbers are declining fast. It is estimated that well over half of their number have died mainly due to loss of habitat over the past 60 years. There is no let-up in sight either, with the rate of decline predicted to continue.

Kinabatangan is all the more special, because it is hemmed in on all sides by palm oil plantations – one of the biggest causes of deforestation and loss of habitat for orangutans. The rapid expansion of plantations in Borneo has significantly accelerated habitat loss, but jobs like Nelson’s in eco-tourism are offering sustainable, alternative sources of work and income to nationals that might otherwise be tempted into illegal trades, like logging, to earn a living.

After about 20 minutes, however, Nelson cut the engine and nosed the boat into the left bank, again silently pointing up into the trees where this time I clearly saw two baby orangutans swinging between the branches; playing – to the untrained eye – just like human siblings. They were disinterested in us, but their mother was close by nonetheless.